Can't Knock The Hustle: Karlie Hustle On Being Your Own Boss

A one-on-one with self-made lady, Karlie Hustle, for VIBE's "In A League Of Their Own" series

Karlie Hustle is no rookie when it comes to working on excellence. The former music programming director for HOT 97 has worked in and out of local radio stations and street teams, while promoting her own bow tie line and serving as director of brand relations for 9th Wonder's Jamla Records. She also contributes to the site, Hip Hop My Way, and throws a party at Manhattan's S.O.B.'s called Groove Candy.

Her industry moniker summarizes her daily routine and stems from another hard-working individual hailing from her native West Coast. "E-40 put out a project called E-40 Tycoon known as “Charlie Hustle” and I was at a record store, talking with a couple of guys there and they were like your name is Karlie. We should just call you Karlie Hustle," she recalls from the 2001 exchange. "E-40 borrowed that name from Pete Rose, who’s the original Charile Hustle, so I basically borrowed it from E-40 and made it into a feminine version with the help of my record store friends."

Fast forward 14 years later and her hustle has given her a wealth of wisdom on working in the music business. VIBE recently sat down with Karlie at coworking hot spot QNS Collective for an insightful exchange on being your own boss and doing it well.

My come-up in a nutshell:
It wasn’t until I was able to get a mentor, [HOT 97 personality] Ebro Darden. He found me doing some charity work in the hip-hop community and put me on the street team at the radio station. I walked into the studio one day and saw Mario Devoe crack the mic and I was like ‘That’s it. I’m going to try that. It looks terrifying, fun, and I’m going to make it happen’ and so I did. I got an opportunity to host a mixed show and I did that for a few months [before getting] an opportunity to go full-time. But I had to pick up and move. It’s interesting that I didn’t set out knowing that this is I wanted to do. It sort of found me and that’s how my career has been throughout the years.

How I locked in my bow tie business:
I was wearing button-ups and bow ties by the time the VH1 show [This Is HOT 97] came out. I kinda wanted to have a look that people could identify me with besides just being the bald chick. I wanted to add a few layers of style to it. I told my boyfriend I wanted to put out my own bow tie, because I love bow ties, so he and I brainstormed and basically came up with the wooden bow tie, a collaboration with Good Wood. I started [the company] before I left HOT 97. Really, it was my boyfriend who had the connection and also worked with the graphic designer. We went through a few different incarnations of the tie and it ended up being kind of the one that you see right now.

On leaving a major gig to be an entrepreneur:
At HOT 97, I was challenged very much. It was a difficult job and a lot of work and multitasking [amongst] lots of lay-offs that happened so I was constantly inheriting more and more jobs. I realized [that with] all these skills I have, I’m using them to make somebody else rich. If I worked hard and utilized them to run my own business, how successful could I possibly be? So when I started the Hustle bow tie company, it was almost like I gave myself permission to try that road and think that the illusion of stability and long-term career is just that—an illusion.

On navigating the music business:
There’s somebody younger waiting to take your spot or there’s somebody who will work for cheaper. These are not necessarily things that people say directly but it’s very much indirectly there. You look at HOT 97 when you’re coming up in radio as the diamond brand, the pinnacle and I believe that it still is even though I’m not there. To be on the inside of it, it functions like every other radio station that I’ve worked at except the names are bigger, the stakes are higher, and every rating point means a million dollars instead of maybe $150,000. There’s more to lose if you aren’t succeeding and making mistakes. It’s on a more national, if not worldwide stage, so that’s the main difference. To me, radio is radio. If you understand the business, you can go anywhere, but there is something special about HOT 97 in that you really need to be invested in it and be involved with the lifestyle and culture. If you’re not, it shows.

My biggest challenge:
Prioritizing. There’s not so much in the way of delegation when you work for yourself because you end up delegating it back to yourself. It’s about making a list of priorities. When you work for yourself, you’re not checking in at 9am and leaving at 5pm. The checks are not coming every two weeks unless you go out there and get it, so that’s signing contracts with people, making sure that you’re getting checks for [a certain number of] months for a particular project, that kind of stuff. And it’s a new space for me to be in too, because you’re used to getting a check every two weeks. When you’re not, you’re in a whole new world of evaluating how much you think you’re worth financially, dictating that and negotiating around that.

On being comfortable while talking about money:
The best way is to talk with other people who are generally in the same business as you are. I may talk to a friend who does freelance PR and be like ‘So when you do a campaign, how long is it? How much do you usually charge?' And because she’s a friend of mine, she’s going to give me the real deal, so having those kinds of people in your corner will help you. Other than that, there’s always that dance you do with people around money. 'So how much do you have? How much do you want? Well, what’s your budget?' You just have to get over that hump, give them a higher number and know that they’re probably going to talk you down, and being okay with whatever that number ends up being unless it’s just not worth it for you.

My advice to young females trying to be on their hustle:
It depends on where you are at in the game. I worked for free a lot over the years and I still do solids for people, knowing that I’m going to come back around and need a favor at some point. There is a give-and-take. It’s not like your keeping score, like a creep, but there’s an understanding in business that if I do something for you, I’m going to need something from you at some point. I’m not afraid to do things for free, whether it's for myself and I break even. If it’s for the greater good of my brand and what I’m trying to do overall, then I’ll keep doing it.

On networking the right way:
When you're in any kind of position where people want to speak to you, there’s a space where people can be a little bit thirsty. Just create the most organic relationship that can start with casual conversations with people, whether it’s interacting with them on Twitter or showing up and supporting an event they’re already doing. That’s always a nice gesture if you’re trying to get to know somebody and get next to them. I think that people who don’t understand those rules of engagement, don’t end up being very successful in the long run.

I’m still working on my ______:
Belief in myself. I don’t think it ever stops being something that is challenging as far as 'Am I good enough? Am I smart enough? Am I pretty enough? Am I gonna take it to the next level?' These are all things that I think are just constantly real in most of our heads and so it’s a battle to continually decide that you are despite what the world is trying to tell us most of the time, as women, specifically.

Hardest project I've done:
I did all the stage logistics for the Main stage at Summer Jam and produced for the Festival stage. It’s about managing so much information, like graphs, charts, spreadsheets and who’s here when. Having different sets of information and only giving people what they need, yet being the barrier of all that and figuring out how to aggregate and disseminate it properly.

My biggest professional regret:
I don’t have any. I think [my career is] laid out exactly the way it is supposed to be and I wouldn’t change anything, because I wouldn’t be sitting where I am right now.

VIBE Presents: In A League Of Their Own
She Got Game: Meet WNBA President, Laurel Richie
One-Woman Show: A Closer Look At Soledad O’Brien
The Blueprint: Karen Civil On Rocking The Industry And Beyond
Poetry In Motion: Ballerina Misty Copeland On Standing Out
Can’t Stop, Won’t Stop: Meet Lifestyle Connoisseur, Miss Diddy
Nothin’ But Sweat: Meet Personal Trainer, Massy ‘Mankofit’ Arias

From the Web

More on Vibe

Nick Rice

25 Hip-Hop Albums By Bomb Womxn Of 2018

The female voice in hip-hop has always been present whether we've noticed it or not. The late Sylvia Robinson birthed the hip-hop music industry with the formation of Sugar Hill Records (and fostering "Rapper's Delight"), Roxanne Shante's 55 lyrical responses to fellow rappers were the first diss tracks and Missy Elliott's bold and striking music and visuals inspired men and women in the game to step outside of their comfort zones.

These pillars and many more have allowed the next generation of emcees to be unapologetically brash, truthful and confident in their music. Cardi B's Invasion of Privacy and Nicki Minaj's Queen might've been the most mainstream albums by womxn in rap this year, but there was a long list of creatives who brought the noise like Rico Nasty, Tierra Whack, Noname and Bbymutha. Blame laziness or the heavy onslaught of music hitting streaming sites this year, but many of the artists on this list have hibernated under the radar for far too long.

VIBE decided to switch things up but also highlighting rap albums by womxn who came strong in their respectively debut albums, mixtapes, EPs. We also had to give props to those who dropped standout singles, leaving us wanting more.

READ MORE: 15 R&B Songs We Obsessed Over Most In 2018

Continue Reading
VIBE / Nick Rice

10 Most Important Hip-Hop Artists Of 2018

We’ve reached another end to an eventful year in hip-hop. From rap beefs to new music releases and milestones, 2018 has been forged in the history books as a year to remember. But more important than the events that happened over the span of 12 months are the people who made them happen.

While fans received a large dose of music from our favorite artists and celebrated some of the most iconic album anniversaries, there are a few names that stood out as the culture pushers, sh*t starters, and all-around most significant artists of the year.

For your enjoyment, VIBE compiled a list of the top 10 most important hip-hop artists of 2018 based on a series of qualifications: 1) public actions - good, bad, and ugly; 2) music releases; 3) philanthropic/humanitarian work; and 4) trending moments.

Be clear: This list isn’t about the most influential, the most talented, who had the best music or tours. While we are commemorating artists for the work they’ve contributed to this year’s music cycle, we’re looking beyond that and evaluating how these particular artists have shaped conversations and pushed hip-hop culture forward.

READ MORE: 15 R&B Songs We Obsessed Over Most In 2018

Continue Reading
Stacy-Ann Ellis

NEXT: Intent On Impact, Kiana Lede Is Ready To Leave Her Mark

After learning The Alphabet Song as a little girl, Kiana Lede would always “get in trouble” for singing during class. “My mom was like, ‘why can't you focus?’” she laughs while reminiscing on her career’s formative years. “I was like, ‘I don’t know! Songs are just playing in my head all the time!’”

Whilst sitting in a shoebox-sized room at Midtown Manhattan’s Moxy Hotel on a humid September day, the now- 21-year-old Arizona-bred R&B songbird, actress and pianist speculates that she “may have had ADD.” However, she settles down after taking off her white cowboy boots and flops down on the ivory-clothed bed, demonstrating that her fiery Aries energy can be contained. Cool as a cucumber, Lede shuffles between chewing on banana candies and blowing smoke rings after taking drags from a pen, all while musing about her journey to becoming a Republic Records signee.

“I just grew up singing and doing musical theater, and reading a lot of books, and playing piano way too much in my room by myself,” she says, pushing her big, curly brown hair out of her face. Her expressive green eyes widen as she grins. “It was my thing. Nobody in my family does music, just me.”

After winning Kidz Bop’s 2011 KIDZ Star USA talent contest at 14 (which her mother secretly entered her into), Lede was signed to RCA Records. She was released from her contract and dropped from the label three years later. However, thanks to guidance and friendship from the Grammy-winning production duo Rice N’ Peas, (who’ve worked with G-Eazy, Trevor Jackson, and Bazzi), she released covers of songs such as Drake’s “Hotline Bling” while working to get her groove back. The latter rendition resulted in Republic Record’s Chairman and CEO Monte Lipman flying her out and signing her to his label.

“I got a second chance, which a lot of people don't get,” she reveals. “So I'm really happy that that all happened. I wouldn't be here right now in this room if that didn't happen.”

Thanks to the new opportunity she was given, Lede’s sound has evolved into something she’s proud of—equal parts soul, R&B and bohemian. As evidenced by the aforementioned ensemble, glimmers of each aesthetic can be found when observing her personal style as well. She released her seven-song EP Selfless in July, which features the bedroom-ready “Show Love” and “Fairplay,” which manages to fit in the mainstream R&B vein while also showcasing her goosebump-inducing vocals. The remix of the latter features MC A$AP Ferg. What pleases her most is that it not only garnered a favorable response from fans, but that those listeners found it so relatable.

“As an artist, it's really nerve-wracking for someone who writes about such personal things all the time,” she says. “Just the fact that it is my story… It's good to know that other people know that there's somebody on their side, and they're not the only ones going through it. A lot of people obviously feel this way, and have been through this same thing that I've been through. So I think that's cool.”

Although she moved to various places as a Navy serviceman’s daughter, Lede claims Phoenix as home. This means she hails from the same stomping grounds as rockers Alice Cooper, Stevie Nicks and the late Chester Bennington of Linkin Park. However, growing up in a mixed race household gave way to tons of sonic exploration outside of the rock-heavy scene.

“My dad's black, and both of my parents are from the East Coast,” she says of her musical and ethnic upbringing (she’s black, Latina and Native American). “[My parents] listened to a lot of R&B. My mom listened to a lot of SWV, TLC, Boyz II Men. I didn't realize I knew the songs until I got older. I played a charity show with T-Boz, and I was like 'why do I know these songs?'” Lede also says her father was a fan of neo-soul and gangsta rap, but she personally believes the early-2000s was the best time for music.

“[That era] influences a lot of my music subconsciously, and also, singer-songwriter stuff,” she continues. “I listen to a lot of early-2000s music because I played piano most of my life. I listened to Sara Bareilles, John Mayer.”

An open book, Lede details some of her struggles with anxiety and depression with the utmost candor. After being dropped from RCA, her trust in people diminished, and she experienced long bouts of depression after being sexually assaulted by someone in the industry. The track that she feels most deeply about is “One Of Them Days,” which tackles these issues head-on.

“When I'm anxious and depressed, it's really hard to be happy,” Lede says. “Most of the time, I can do it, but there are just some days where I literally can't separate the anxiety, and I can't tell anybody why, because I don't really know why myself… I was feeling very odd that day, didn't even know if I could write a song. Hue [Strother], the guy who I wrote the song with, he was like 'I totally get you. Lots of people go through this.’’’

As we’ve observed in headlines recently, mental health and being honest about life’s trickier situations can help someone going through the same thing, and Lede hopes her music provides encouragement to those who are struggling. As for how she’s learning to push through her mental health roadblocks, she meditates, runs, and is an advocate for therapy, especially in Trump’s America, where harrowing news reports dominate the cycle.

Another hallmark of Kiana Lede’s personality is her bleeding heart for others. She cites women of color, sexual assault victims and the homeless youth specifically as individuals she feels most responsible to help, since she is personally connected to all three. While she’s aiming to create a project that helps homeless youth specifically, she’s working hard this holiday season to ensure that they have a place to stay “at least for the night” after horrific wildfires displaced many individuals in California.

“My passion is really people. Music is just a way that I can get to helping people,” she says with a grin. “Helping people emotionally and physically are both very important. I never want to stop helping people. I feel if other people can respect me, and I can respect myself, then I'll be happy. Happiness is all that we strive for.”

Recently, Lede played her first headlining solo show, a one-night event at The Mint in Los Angeles. While she was thrilled to see that the show sold-out, she was even happier to see the faces of her audience members, who she said ‘looked like [her].’ “Mixed girls, brown girls, black girls, gay boys,” she explains over-the-phone. Even though she wasn’t in person to discuss her latest huge accomplishment, you could hear the pride and joy through her voice.

As for the future of her career, she’s looking forward to more acting roles. You may recognize her from the first season of MTV’s Scream, and after her recent Netflix series All About The Washingtons with legendary MC Rev Run was cancelled, she has been “reading for auditions” and is “negotiating” for a role in a film set to shoot in NYC. While her time with the Run-DMC frontman was brief, she says he taught her about the importance of “not compromising your art for money.”

What Kiana Lede is most excited about, of course, is making music. She hopes to work on a new EP and then release an album after that. The ultimate goal is to fully realize the dreams in her personal and professional life, and she assures she’s just getting started.

“I want to be able to look back on my career and think 'man, I really poured my heart into this music, and made music that mattered, and made music that made people feel a certain way, whether it's bad, good, sad, anxious, whatever it may be.’”

READ MORE: NEXT: H.E.R. Is The Future Of R&B (And Then Some) In Plain Sight

Continue Reading

Top Stories